A compelling new podcast re-visits the Monica Lewinsky scandal through the lens of the #MeToo movement, casting a disturbing light on our treatment of “the other woman”
When Monica Lewinsky was outed as the intern President Bill Clinton was having an affair with in 1998, the backlash was swift and brutal.
Lewinsky, 24 at the time, was branded “a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo“.
Now a compelling new podcast re-examines the woman at the heart of one of America’s biggest political storms, bringing the power of hindsight to a moral stain on the public conscience.
It’s easy to be judgemental about the past, but Slate’s new season of the Slow Burn podcast is all the better for resisting that temptation.
Instead, it examines what it was like to live through that scandal at the time, laying bare the horrific treatment of Lewinsky in raw, unsentimental terms.
Anyone who’s lived through the Clinton-Lewinsky saga will be familiar with the outline of the case.
But what has been lost over time (or never came to light at all) is the detail of how it unfolded; and that’s exactly what makes Slow Burn such a compelling story to listen to.
Episode one of the two-month series starts with Lewinksy’s detainment by the FBI at a shopping mall in Washington DC.
Lewinsky thought she was there to meet her friend Linda Tripp, with whom she had confided in about her affair with the president.
Tripp had been secretly recording her conversations with the young intern for some time and on that day, handed her over to a team of FBI agents.
Lewinsky went onto be interrogated for 11 hours by an all-male group of lawyers and agents working for prosecutor Kenneth Starr.
“I was threatened with up to 27 years in jail for denying the affair in an affidavit and other alleged crimes,” she recalls, in a rare public talk about her ordeal at a Forbes event in 2014 (her voice still shaking from the memory, 16 years on).
It’s easy to forget quite how sinister the treatment of Lewinsky was during this dark episode in history.
At the time, she was cast as a kind of cartoon villain; someone to be ridiculed or reviled, depending on your approach.
And yet, as Slow Burn reveals, this is a woman who faced enduring psychological trauma as a result of her ill-fated affair with a man far older and more powerful than her.
During her interrogation with the FBI, Lewinsky considered throwing herself out of a window and her mum - who travelled to Washington DC to support her that night - later made her shower with the door open in case she tried to hurt herself.
One of the agents involved in the incident was so appalled by it, he left the team soon after (and his interview in the podcast makes for gripping testimony).
With time, we’ve come to understand that Clinton’s relationship with his intern amounted to a huge abuse of power (something Lewinsky herself acknowledged in later years).
But what we never truly grasped, and what Slow Burn drives home, is the level of hurt and humiliation she endured at the eye of the political storm.
Lewinsky was hung out to dry by all who knew her in the scandal; disowned by the President, demonised by the press and used as collateral damage by the FBI.
In an age of #MeToo, it’s shocking story of victim-blaming that we should never, ever forget.
Listen to the first episode of Season 2 of Slow Burn right here